Breastfeeding can be a beautiful experience and is a wonderful way to nourish your baby. Providing food and many health benefits, breastfeeding also aids bonding with your little one. Even though it’s one of our most natural physiological processes, breastfeeding is not always instinctive for either your or your baby, and may take some time to feel natural.
Here, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide for mothers-to-be and nursing moms. From how to achieve a proper latch and recognizing your baby’s hunger cues, to understanding what is and isn’t working, here’s what you need to know to breastfeed with confidence.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding
The benefits of breastfeeding are well documented. Mother’s milk is truly incredible and comes with an array of super-powers. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive human milk feeding for six months. The World Health Organization recommends two years or more. Here are some more reasons to try breastfeeding:
- It reduces the risk of sleep-related infant deaths.
- It transfers important beneficial bacteria to your baby, boosting their immune system and decreasing the risk of asthma, childhood leukemia, childhood obesity, ear infections, eczema, diarrhea and vomiting, sudden infant death syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
- It may prepare babies to prefer a healthy diet. Flavors in your food come through in your breast milk, teaching your baby what to expect with solid foods.
- It’s a great mothering tool. Feed, comfort, soothe and bond with your baby anywhere, any time.
What Happens When My Milk Comes In?
There are three types of breast milk you can feed your baby with, depending on their age. This makes it the perfect food from birth to two weeks and beyond.
First on the menu is colostrum, a substance that arrives before your milk comes in. Known as ‘liquid gold’, it’s yellow, thicker than breast milk and contains all the protein, vitamins, minerals and antibodies your baby needs.
Next up is transitional milk, which usually comes in on the third or fourth day. It’s a mix of colostrum and mature milk and can have an orange tinge. It has higher levels of lactose, fat and calories. You won’t be producing much of this milk, as your baby’s tummy is still tiny.
Your milk finally comes in any time from 10 days to up to two weeks after giving birth. It looks watery and white, but is packed with all the fat and other nutrients your growing baby requires. Your hormones will also be going crazy at this stage. Prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production, decreases levels of dopamine, which makes us feel happy. This is why you could be feeling moody and have low energy after your baby’s birth. If it doesn’t improve after several weeks, you could have postpartum depression. Seek help from your healthcare provider.
How Do I Get My Baby To Latch On?
Getting a good latch is essential for successful breastfeeding. Here’s a checklist.
- Relax, get comfortable and ensure your back is supported. A nursing pillow can help to support your baby and take the strain from your back and arms.
- Hold your baby facing your breasts, with the front of their body facing yours, tummy to tummy. Support your baby’s neck and upper back.
- Your baby will need to take a big mouthful of your nipple, including some of the darker-coloured areola, in order to suck properly.
- Position your baby’s mouth toward the bottom of your areola, tickle their upper lip with your nipple to encourage a wide yawn-like open mouth and aim your nipple at the roof of your baby’s mouth.
- You’ll know you've got a proper latch when your baby’s lower lip, chin and cheeks are touching your breast. You should be able to see most of your areola. Your baby’s nose will be clear and their lips will be spread out, like a fish!
- You should feel a strong pulling sensation. Listen for the sound of swallowing and watch for a strong, rhythmic suck-swallow-breath pattern.
- Your breasts and nipples will feel tender at first, but any pain means that the latch is incorrect. Seek help from your midwife, nurse or lactation consultant and remember practice makes perfect – it’ll take a few goes to get it right.
What Breastfeeding Positions Should I Try?
It might take quite a few tries to get your baby into the right position, but keep having a go. Here are some basic breastfeeding positions to try:
Cradle Hold: Ideal For Early Breastfeeding
Support your baby across the front of your body, tummy to tummy. Rest your baby’s head in the crook of the arm on the side you’re feeding from, with the same hand supporting the rest of your baby’s body. Use your free hand to guide your nipple toward your baby’s nose.
Crossover Hold: Ideal For Early Breastfeeding
Support your baby across the front of your body, tummy to tummy. Hold your baby’s head with the hand opposite to the breast you’ll be nursing from. So, if you’re feeding from the right breast, hold the head with your left hand. Like the cradle hold, use your free hand to cup your breast.
Football Hold: Ideal If You’re Recovering From A C-section
Tuck your baby’s legs under the arm that’s on the same side as the breast you’re feeding from. Support your arm and your baby with a feeding pillow – we love these pretty ones from DockATot – and use your other hand to cup your breast and guide your nipple.
Side-lying Position: Great For Night Feeds
Lie on your side, your head supported by a pillow. Position your baby so their head is in line with your nipple. Use your free hand to cup your breast if you need to.
How Often And How Long Should I Breastfeed My Baby?
Whether you’re breastfeeding or formula feeding, your newborn should be fed every one to three hours, so they feed eight to 12 times in 24 hours. Every baby is different and feeding patterns vary, so expect to nurse a little more or less frequently.
Breastfeeding is most successful when you feed on demand – that is, whenever your baby seems hungry. You don’t have to stick to a schedule, just respond to their needs, and you’ll be satisfying their appetite, as well as offering them reassurance and comfort. Look out for cues like rooting (turning their head to the side and opening their mouth); nuzzling against you; sucking on their hand; sucking on their lip or tongue; and making lip-smacking sounds.
Frequent nursing will help build up your milk supply and prevent your breasts from becoming engorged, which can lead to blocked ducts and mastitis. Feeds can take any time from 10 to 40 minutes so make sure you’re comfortable and that your baby is latched on properly.
Drain one breast fully before switching to the other side. This ensures your baby benefits from both the hydrating fore milk, which contains mostly water and other nutrients, as well as the hind milk, which is richer in fats and calories.
Don’t worry if your breastfed baby eats way more often than formula-fed babies. Breast milk is easy to digest, so little tummies empty faster and get hungrier quicker.
It's hard to know how much milk you're producing and how much your baby is consuming but if your baby is happy and content after feeding and gaining weight, you’re doing great! Make sure they’re producing dirty diapers and keep a record in the first few weeks. Expect six to 12 wet (urine) diapers and three to four soft, yellow bowel movements within 24 hours.
Helpful Breastfeeding Tips
- Find somewhere quiet and peaceful so you can focus.
- Get comfy, whether you’re in bed, on the coach, in an armchair on a nursing glider.
- Stay well fed and hydrated. Breastfeeding is a lot of work! Keep your energy levels up.
- Practice, practice, practice. Keep trying and feed often to keep up your supply.
- Get some rest. Sleep when your baby sleeps, if you can.
- Soothe chapped nipples. Try organic olive oil, coconut oil or lanolin.
- Be patient – remember breastfeeding is a learned skill.
- Stay calm. Tension can inhibit let-down of milk. Take some deep breaths.
How Do I Get Help With Breastfeeding?
Whether you want to learn more about breastfeeding before you give birth or need some support with anything from a poor latch to mastitis, try these reliable resources:
- Your midwife
- Your baby’s pediatrician
- A lactation consultant
- A postpartum doula
- A breastfeeding support group
- Friends and family members who have nursed
- International Lactation Consultant Association
- La Leche League International
When To Stop Breastfeeding
You can wean your baby off breastfeeding whenever you choose to. Experts recommend weaning gradually by slowly reducing the frequency of nursing. Suddenly stopping breastfeeding can cause breast discomfort, engorgement, plugged ducts or mastitis.
Drop a nursing session and replace it with a bottle feed. Once your breasts adjust, you can drop another feed. Keep your baby happy with extra cuddles.
What If I Can’t Breastfeed?
You are not a failure if you aren’t able to breastfeed. Your body may not be able to maintain a healthy milk supply, and that’s not your fault. You may be taking certain medications or undergoing medical treatments that aren’t breastfeeding safe. You may not have the support from family and friends required to breastfeed.
Know that breastfeeding is not the only choice – what matters is that your child has a happy, healthy mother, not how they’re fed. Read our guide to postpartum care for tips on how to stay calm, confident and comfortable when looking after your baby.